2 December 2013
Women in Islam
Islamic women are guided by primary Islamic sources of personal law (the Quran and hadiths) and secondary sources that include ijma (consensus of opinion), qiyas (deductive analogy), and ijtihad (deduction of divine laws) in a form such as fatwas (legal pronouncements). Besides religious guidelines cultural traditions also play a role. The laws and traditions impact many areas of a Muslim woman’s life including her education, employment opportunities, dress, rights of inheritance, female circumcision, age of marriage, freedom to consent to marriage, mahr (dowry), marriage contract, ability to use birth control, sex outside of or before marriage, divorce, justice in the case of sex crimes, property rights, and when religious prayers are mandatory (Esposito).
Islam outlines and structures how a woman lives her life on a day to day basis. It dictates much more than her religious identity. Islam doesn’t force a woman to be a housewife but she must obtain permission from her husband to leave the house and get a job (Nieuwkerk). In 1990 a law was passed in Saudi Arabia that banned women from driving further reducing a woman’s ability to leave her home and obtain employment. In Muslim countries women have varying degrees of religious rights in regards to marriage, divorce, legal status, education, and dress code.
Islam makes a difference in the roles of women who believe in Islam and the women who do not believe in it. The right to own slave women was considered a natural right of a Muslim man. Slave women could be sold without their consent, expected to provide sexual services, need permission from their owners to marry, and all children born to them are considered Muslim under Muslim law as long as the father is Muslim (Abbot).
Historically, Islamic women attended lectures and study sessions at mosques. Some women played roles in the foundation of religious educational institutions and several were even religious scholars (Abbot). In 2013, the Organization of Islamic Cooperation stated that many of its member’s nations restrict educational opportunities for girls. UNICEF has noted that up to 70% of women in Islamic nations are illiterate (Gokcen).
Islamic women are allowed to work if there is a financial need and the employment doesn’t cause her to neglect her role as wife and mother. When women do have the right to work their jobs are normally unequal to that of men. Men are seen as more reliable employees because women are still expected to put their families before their work.
Most Muslim countries have a mixed legal system. The first part contains a constitution, parliamentary laws, and state courts, and the second part contains sharia based laws and legal courts. Some countries apply the entire sharia code in legal matters involving Muslim women (BBC World Service). Some local customs such as blood money and honor killing remain a part of the customary legal process for these women in parts of Islamic regions.
Sex between a Muslim woman and any man she isn’t married to is called zina which is a religious crime in Islam. This includes extramarital sex, premarital sex, and rape. It is in the list of hadd crimes, which are crimes against God (Bechor). The punishment for unlawful sex is fixed for a woman in Islam and is flogging with 100 lashes in public or stoning to death; also accusing a person of a sex crime or rape without proper witnesses is also a hadd crime. The sex crime can’t be alleged by any woman without four Muslim male witnesses to the crime or without confession in court by the person who committed the crime. Scholars claim this sharia requirement of four eyewitnesses severely limits a woman’s ability to press rape charges (Bechor).
Many scholars claim that Islamic law, one example being verse 4:34 of the Quran, encourages and allows domestic violence against women if a husband feels his wife is being disobedient,